The Lascars: The Flourishing Yemenis of Britain

By D.W. Aossey

The Last of the Lascars: Yemeni Muslims in Britain 1836-2012
By Mohammad Seddique Seddon
Kube Publishing Ltd, 2014. 328 pp.

Of the many diverse people of the Arab world, the Yemenis present a fascinating case. A nation with an epic past and present, tribal in character, built upon a seafaring culture of exploration, trade and migration, Yemen and the port of Aden serve as one of the great ‘crossroads of the world’, sandwiched between the Arabian Peninsula, Africa and the Indian Subcontinent. In a new book entitled “The Last of the Lascars: Yemeni Muslims in Britain 1836-2012,” Mohammad Seddique Seddon tells the story of the Yemeni seamen who labored aboard the British trade ships of the East India Company and settled in Britain. It examines their history and experiences, relating the stories of the generations that remained. Who are the Yemenis of Britain? From where did they originate and why did they settle there? The author carefully considers these and other questions.

The British used the term Lascar to describe any sailor of ‘oriental’ descent—Malay, Indian, Arab or otherwise. From 1839, when the British East India Company captured of the Port of Aden, up until the present day, Yemeni Lascars have served on British ships transporting goods around the world. In the port cities of Cardiff, Liverpool and Manchester, communities formed among the squalid ‘coloured only’ lodging houses as early as 1840. These first immigrants faced extreme prejudice and racism in British society,and remained isolated, yet networks of boarding houses and small cafés provided for their cultural and religious needs. Later, Yemeni enclaves emerged as the sailors and their descendants found more stable employment in the ports and docks around Britain.

As second class citizens, these people proved socially ‘invisible,’ yet often chose isolation as a means maintaining their tribal and religious traditions. The book describes the Yemeni Lascar families and communities that have perservered and still flourish in Britain today. It touches upon their social conditions, the civil rights and religious controversies that affect them, and describes their interactions with mainstream British society.

A fascinating read, and one that might sound familiar to many of Arab descent, "The Last of the Lascars," proves an excellent book and is highly recommended.

 This review is scheduled to appear in Al Jadid, Vol. 20, No. 71.

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